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Theophilus Danjuma at 70

Posted by By PATRICK ASONYE on 2007/12/03 | Views: 1279 |

Theophilus Danjuma at 70


Warming up for his 70th birthday bash, former Minister of Defence, General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, has sensationally revealed the most prized secret of his military adventures, even as he prepares to hand over the baton of entrepreneurship to his kids.

* Mistakes I made during Biafra war

Warming up for his 70th birthday bash, former Minister of Defence, General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, has sensationally revealed the most prized secret of his military adventures, even as he prepares to hand over the baton of entrepreneurship to his kids.

Danjuma, ranked among the richest retired Nigerian Army officers, spoke at his Lagos residence Thursday, touching off a sore point in his military career, which he categorizes as one of his few mistakes.
Specifically, the incident was the blunder that his troops committed in Enugu sector while prosecuting the Nigerian civil war on the federal side.


Commanding a rampaging division of the Nigerian army, Danjuma said his boys had no difficulty overrunning the then capital of the fledgling republic, but lacked the intelligence to forge ahead and secure surrender from their opponents. That failure, the retired General acknowledges, prolonged the civil war unnecessarily:

ďWe got to Enugu, but it was a mistake arising from lack of Intelligence gathering. We had absolutely no source of Intelligence information from the Biafran side. We were totally blind, so we didnít know that the front was empty and in total disarray in the Biafran Army. We didnít know.Ē
He also gave insight into his failed bid to become a farmer after retiring; and the fun lined up for his birthday next weekend.

General, letís start by wishing you happy birthday. So, how does it feel turning 70?
Well, I donít feel anything different from yesterday. For me, it is like another birthday.

So, are you celebrating in a big way?
Yes, we are, because I have gone through a lot, seen a lot of things in my lifetime Ė my military career, the business sector in which I am now. I had twenty years of military service and now over twenty-six years in the private sector. It was rough in the military service; itís been treacherous in business. That I have gone through all those, itís time to thank God that I survived it all.

Does that signal retiring?
Amm, it signals the beginning of re-retiring. I retired from the army. I have slowed down. I shall gradually wind down, and then hand over my business to my wife and children.

Can you take us down memory lane, to your days as a growing child?
I grew up during the Wolrd War 11 period, and the Colonial times Ė when Nigeria was the British colony. The colonial administrators were in charge of the country and there was law and order. Yes, things were difficult, we were poor, but we were happy. We didnít know it at that time. Now looking back, it was a very happy time.

What inspired you to join the army?
I joined the Nigerian Army by accident. The college Ė Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria branch, we had a cadet corps, where students were trained in military tactics. They wore uniforms, Nigerian army uniform. There was one item of the Nigerian army uniform, which I liked - the Jungle hat. And I wanted the outfit. The only way I could get it was to join the cadet corps. That is how I joined the cadet corps. There, I met a British Army officer who turned out to be a National Service man, meaning that he was drafted to the Army. He finished from the University, and had to serve his military career in the army, and he was sent to Nigeria. He was the one that advised me to become a professional soldier. That is how I joined.

What were the challenges?
In fact, my first command was the beginning of the Nigerian civil war. I was recalled from the Staff College (abroad) to command One Division of the Nigerian Army. I led the troops that captured Enugu, then capital of Biafra. After that, we marched down to Umuahia. That was perhaps my most challenging experience.

Would you say you have been lucky?
Yes, I have been a very lucky man.

Apart from luck, what else would you attribute your success to?
Perhaps I have some native intelligence. Yes, because I am not en expert in everything. But I never ventured into any area without the use of experts. I never ventured into any area of business without partners, people who have the expertise. And so mistakes, which are inevitable, are few. To make serious mistakes in business could be the end of that business. But above all, I have been very lucky.

Still talking about mistakes, could you recall making any mistakes while serving in the military?
A few, perhaps the most serious being that after the fall of Enugu, we halted our advance for too long. We didnít know that there was nobody in our front. The collapse of the enemy was so total. If we had followed through, the war would probably have ended much earlier.
We got to Enugu, but it was a mistake arising from lack of Intelligence gathering. We had absolutely no source of Intelligence information from the Biafran side. We were totally blind, so we didnít know that the front was empty and in total disarray in the Biafran Army. We didnít know.

But we understand you had some saboteurs working for you; supplying you useful information. Isnít it?
That is not true! In any case, any Nigerian that suffers setback blames saboteurs and everybody except himself. There were no saboteurs. If anything, it was mayhem. Igbos were the most homogenous tribe in Nigeria. And in times of difficulty, such as it was that time, the cohesion within their society was very formidable.
But quite a number of people in Biafra at that time felt, well, they have made a point. After the fall of Enugu, perhaps they should make a go. But again, there was the fear that if they were surrounded, they would all be slaughtered. That was the weapon that Biafran war propagandists used to their advantage; to face the federal troops, that if they surrendered, theyíll all be killed.

Now, can you attempt to assess your fortunes?
I would say I have been very lucky. I am very comfortable. I have been successful in business. So, things have been very positive for me.

General, how do you usually relax?
I listen to classical music. I also read.

Some other Generals, when they retired, ventured into farming. How come you chose something different?
For your information, I am a failed farmer! I have in my hometown, about 101 acres of farmland. At a certain stage, I bought 15 brand new Tractors, employed an expatriate farm manager. In one year, I was the most productive maize farmer in former Gongola State. And in another year, I was the most productive Soya bean farmer in my State.
But my farm collapsed after about 10 years. All the cattle died, I couldnít replace them. I sent away my farm manager. So I went into farming and failed.

Was it a consequence of corruption in the system?
The workers were stealing from the farm. They were also doing P.P (Private Practice) with my Tractors. They were using my Tractors to plough other peopleís farms and collect the money. And then, they also stole the Tractor parts and sold to other people. They simply cannibalised my machines.
In fact, what I think killed my farm was low yield products. We could spend about N2million purchasing seedlings, and only harvest crops worth N200, 000. So the return was as low as that. And we were paying wages.
We were selling our products in a hurry because we didnít have storage facilities. Of course, if we kept the crops for too long, insects would eat them up.
But above all, what killed my farming project were incessant changes in government policies. I went into farming at a time that if you needed foreign exchange in business, you had to be this or that. And all of a sudden government changes its policy. That also destabilises you. That was how I abandoned farming.

Can you give us a peep into the medals you won while in military service?
I did not win any foreign medal. All the medals were awarded me here in Nigeria. What I have are normal medals like anybody who served in the military at the time I did. So it wasnít anything about gallantry.
Our government made a policy that the civil war was a family dispute, that nobody should be awarded a medal for gallantry in that war. However, I received medals that everybody in uniform received at the time of our independence. So I have Independence medal; long service medal because I served more than 15 years in the army.

What are the things you cherish?
I guard my privacy very jealously. For instance, I donít bring work home. When I close from work, I come home to relax. I donít discuss business or bring work partners home.
Yet I travel a lot. In fact, as much as possible I travel with my wife. But the problem is that when we travel, we donít fly the same plane. We fly separate airplanes.

Is that deliberate?
Yes, it is deliberate. My wife feels that at least there should be someone left behind if anything untoward happened.

If you didnít enlist in the army, what else would you have wished to be?
A teacher! I wanted to be a History teacher. When I went to school, I wanted to take a degree in History.

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